Can Pope Francis shift the focus from himself to Christ?

I’ve covered enough papal trips under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI to be familiar with the routine.

As the press centre fills, the first reports filter out of the Pope’s remarks to journalists accompanying him on the plane. The familiar Alitalia A330 touches down on the airport tarmac flying the Vatican and local flags from its cockpit; state officials and bishops form a welcoming committee; the Pope emerges, is greeted, is whisked away in a limousine to the city centre, where he climbs into the “popemobile” for a tour of streets lined with well-wishers. Then comes the welcoming ceremony in which the president or prime minister addresses him, and he gives a speech in response.

Soon after the press centre fills with Italian voices and veteran journalists as the dozens of VAMPS – journalists working for the major agencies, permanently accredited to the Holy See Press Office, who sit at the back of the papal plane – arrive. Father Frederico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, breaks away from the papal entourage to give a briefing to the press corps that helps shape the first stories.

True to form, all of this happened yesterday. Yet Pope Francis’s arrival in Rio de Janeiro – just before that of the royal baby – managed to be strikingly different from what we have been used to in papal trips. Once he was in the air – after carrying his own bag onto the plane – he rejected the usual interview with pre-prepared questions in order to meet the reporters one by one, asking them about their families, getting to know them and telling them, jokingly, that journalists are not the saints he is most devoted to. In a flight in which he remained permanently active – “this pope has an extraordinary energy,” Father Lombardi remarked – he also visited the cockpit for 15 minutes to chat with the pilots shortly before landing.

But he still gave journalists their story, making some important criticisms of a throwaway culture in which the jobless young are set aside. “The world crisis is not treating young people well,” the Pope said. “We are running the risk of having a generation that does not work. From work comes a person’s dignity.” Continue reading


Austen Ivereigh is a Catholic journalist and the co-ordinator of Catholic Voices.


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